The Influence of Social Class and Institutional Relationships on the Experiences of Vaccine-Hesitant Mothers: A Qualitative Study
Vaccine hesitancy is a growing problem in the United States. However, our understanding of the mechanisms by which socioeconomic status (SES) shapes the experience of vaccine hesitancy and decision-making is incomplete.
The aim of this study was to understand how social class influences the experiences and perspectives of vaccine-hesitant mothers.
We conducted semistructured interviews with middle- and working-class vaccine-hesitant mothers. Participants were identified through neighborhood parenthood groups in the Philadelphia area, as well as in-person and online groups whose members express concerns about vaccines. Interviews were audio recorded and inductively analyzed.
Interviews were conducted with 37 vaccine-hesitant mothers, who described their vaccine decision-making through the lens of interactions with three institutional stakeholders: 1) pediatric clinicians; 2) school administrators; and 3) emergency room staff. In discussing these interactions, middle- and working-class mothers invoked distinct levels of authority in relation to these institutions. Specifically, working-class mothers expressed concerns that medical or school professionals could act as reporters for state intervention, including Child Protective Services, while middle-class mothers did not. These interactions highlighted the ways middle- and working-class mothers in our study felt differently empowered and constrained in their vaccine choices, and ultimately influenced their perceptions of available actions.
Our findings indicate that experiences of vaccine hesitancy may be influenced by mothers’ social class via their relationships to institutional authorities. These findings have implications for how clinicians communicate with parents from different social backgrounds to best build trust and facilitate vaccine uptake.
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